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Old 26th April 2012, 09:12 PM   #1
Tsukasa Buddha
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Good English Grammar Books Or Resources?

I really want to study up on it to improve my writing, but there are so many options out there. A big problem seems to be that there are a fuzzy lines between proper and improper grammar in plenty of cases. I would prefer a nice book, but I don't want to be stuck studying rules that no one cares about anyway (like ending sentences with preposition or splitting infinitives). I don't want a dumbed down guide though. I want to be able to look up if that last sentence needed a comma before "though." Right now I feel like I have to restrict my writing to fit situations I know how to deal with. My biggest issue is comma placement.

So far I have been using Google, but it is hard to sort through all the results for "comma before as." Either I end up searching with words that are too common, or I end up with results from other people asking on forums.
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Old 26th April 2012, 09:21 PM   #2
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I think Strunk and White's Elements of Style is a good handbook for writing. I don't have it with me now but I think it covers commas.
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Old 26th April 2012, 09:26 PM   #3
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"The Use and Abuse of the English Language", Robert Graves (yes, that Robert Graves, the "I, Claudius" guy). It's pretty interesting reading, as well as educational.
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Old 27th April 2012, 01:29 AM   #4
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I like Fowler and http://english.stackexchange.com/questions
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Old 27th April 2012, 06:02 AM   #5
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The Practical Stylist by Sheridan Baker.

Chicago Manual of Style by . . . Chicago?
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Old 27th April 2012, 06:31 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
I think Strunk and White's Elements of Style is a good handbook for writing. I don't have it with me now but I think it covers commas.
This is a bit like what the OP was describing. There are a lot of points that are just not cared about.

I think simple books like Eats Shoots and Leaves suffice for anyone that wants to learn more, and please, splitting infinitives is a big deal, not something you want to regularly do.
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Old 27th April 2012, 06:36 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
I think Strunk and White's Elements of Style is a good handbook for writing. I don't have it with me now but I think it covers commas.
Seconded. A small book where it should be easy to find what you are looking for. Even if I don't follow all its recommendations when posting.
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Old 27th April 2012, 07:02 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Resume View Post
The Practical Stylist by Sheridan Baker.

Chicago Manual of Style by . . . Chicago?

By the University of Chicago Press.
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Old 27th April 2012, 07:05 AM   #9
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I had to buy The Little, Brown Handbook for freshman composition almost 30 years ago, and I used that as my main grammar reference for quite a while. I think I still have it somewhere. Now I mostly use online resources when I have questions.
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Old 27th April 2012, 07:13 AM   #10
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Two of my favorites are:

The Handbook of Good English by Edward D. Johnson
http://www.amazon.com/Handbook-Good-...5535350&sr=1-1

and

The Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions by Harry Shaw
http://www.amazon.com/Dictionary-Pro...5535466&sr=1-1
This one is out of print, but it seems that used copies can be had for reasonable prices.

The Elements of Style is worth at least taking a look at since has been so widely used for so long. If you don't apply it to your own writing, it can still give you some insight into the writing styles of other people.
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Old 27th April 2012, 07:26 AM   #11
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One of my favorite books on writing (though not really on grammar, if that is what you are looking for), which taught me a lot:

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser.
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Old 27th April 2012, 02:15 PM   #12
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I own the Random House Guide to Good Writing. As you can see it is not too expensive. It sports punctuation and is a fairly entertaining read, too.

How well it stacks up to what others have recommended I can't say though.
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Old 27th April 2012, 03:44 PM   #13
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All of the above are good. Karen Elizabeth Gordon is better: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss...on's+books
I started with the first listed. Got most of them now.....
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Old 27th April 2012, 04:31 PM   #14
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A writing guide is not a style guide is not a grammar guide.

On grammar, the queen is Betty... http://www.azargrammar.com/teachersGuides/index.html

I'd rather use charts... http://www.barcharts.com/TradePoint/...dex=&pCount=15

Don't overlook the Purdue OWL... http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/grammar/

Deluxe Transitive Vampire is amusing. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/067...49CXX2RP9EB84D
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Old 28th April 2012, 08:45 AM   #15
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Another vote for Fowler's MEU here. Manages to be quite droll in places.
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Old 28th April 2012, 02:28 PM   #16
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I liked Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss. As a quick reference manual, The Elements of Style is handy.
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Old 28th April 2012, 03:19 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by SpitfireIX View Post
I had to buy The Little, Brown Handbook for freshman composition almost 30 years ago, and I used that as my main grammar reference for quite a while. I think I still have it somewhere. Now I mostly use online resources when I have questions.
Interestingly, I would argue the comma in the name (no doubt placed there deliberately) was wrong, if the intent was to show that "little" applied to Handbook and not to Brown or Brown Handbook. As there is no ambiguity, no comma is needed. They are probably playing on "little brown jug" or somesuch.

ETA: Now if it's from Brown University, say, then, nah, it's still wrong.
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Old 28th April 2012, 04:25 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by Beerina View Post
Interestingly, I would argue the comma in the name (no doubt placed there deliberately) was wrong, if the intent was to show that "little" applied to Handbook and not to Brown or Brown Handbook.
I expect that if the comma was accidental then they would have noticed by now and removed it in subsequent editions.

In fact, the Little and Brown in the title refer to the names of the people who started up a publishing company Little, Brown and Company. Arguably it could be the "Little, Brown and Company Handbook", which sounds a little strange, or the "Little and Brown Handbook" as a comma can be used in place of "and" in American English, I think. I don't think we ever use it that way in English English.
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Old 28th April 2012, 05:59 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
In fact, the Little and Brown in the title refer to the names of the people who started up a publishing company Little, Brown and Company.

Exactly. Charles Coffin Little and James Brown. Little, Brown and Company.
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Old 28th April 2012, 08:02 PM   #20
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Long ago when I went to a private school for seventh and eighth grades, we were given something called The Plain English Handbook. BAck in 1959 it was a bit thinner, but it still exists. The rules of grammar are clearly explained and well organized. For stylish writing you may need to look elsewhere, but for the ground rules I recommend it highly.

http://www.amazon.com/Plain-English-.../dp/0800917936
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Old 29th April 2012, 03:57 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by crimresearch View Post
Don't overlook the Purdue OWL... http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/grammar/

Purdue grad here. Glad to know I'm not the only one who finds this an excellent online grammar resource.
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Old 29th April 2012, 04:32 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
I think Strunk and White's Elements of Style is a good handbook for writing. I don't have it with me now but I think it covers commas.
It's full of contradictory nonsence and outright error. That single book has done more to damage understanding of English grammar and diction than any other text.
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Old 29th April 2012, 04:43 AM   #23
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When I was studying English in the UK everyone in the advanced courses (for non natives) had "Practical English Usage" by Michael Swan. It's good for checking things as you say, usage of proverbs etc.

Last edited by Abooga; 29th April 2012 at 04:47 AM.
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Old 29th April 2012, 09:59 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by brodski View Post
It's full of contradictory nonsence and outright error. That single book has done more to damage understanding of English grammar and diction than any other text.

Possibly because the English language, a bastardization of French and German with words from many other languages thrown in, is full of contradictory nonsense?
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Old 29th April 2012, 10:28 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by SpitfireIX View Post
Possibly because the English language, a bastardization of French and German with words from many other languages thrown in, is full of contradictory nonsense?
No, that's not the reason. It's just a deeply ignorant book which perpetuates (and creates) myths about English, and then fails to stick to the ill-conceived "rules" it sets out.
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Old 29th April 2012, 11:06 AM   #26
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Originally Posted by brodski View Post
It's full of contradictory nonsence and outright error. That single book has done more to damage understanding of English grammar and diction than any other text.
I didn't think it was that bad. There are some things I disagree with such as its instruction to avoid splitting the infinitive except in situations where it sounds better on the ear. There's no need to avoid splitting the infinitive IMHO.

But what examples do you find particularly worrying?
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Old 29th April 2012, 11:08 AM   #27
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Originally Posted by Abooga View Post
When I was studying English in the UK everyone in the advanced courses (for non natives) had "Practical English Usage" by Michael Swan. It's good for checking things as you say, usage of proverbs etc.
This book is very useful for understanding the way that the English language is used, such as how to form phrasal verbs, levels of register, the meaning and strength of taboo words etc... but I think for understanding the technical side of the language it is less useful and deliberately so.
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Old 29th April 2012, 11:13 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by JeanFromBNA View Post
I liked Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss.
Yeah, but didn't you find it a bit grating when she tells a joke and then explains it to you as if you were a particularly backward brain-damaged five-year old?

Another book I sometimes found useful was "Woe is I" by Patricia T. O'Conner. Less patronizing than Lynne Truss and written in something of a mnemonic style.
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Old 29th April 2012, 11:30 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
I didn't think it was that bad. There are some things I disagree with such as its instruction to avoid splitting the infinitive except in situations where it sounds better on the ear. There's no need to avoid splitting the infinitive IMHO.

But what examples do you find particularly worrying?
I think that to needlessly and greatly, in a way that can confuse the reader and make him or her go back over the sentence in order to reparse it and particularly when the split is marked off by commas, split an infinitive can be a bad idea, when it is done badly. This is true of many other forms of language.

Saying that "to boldly go" is wrong would make no more sense than saying the same of "he can boldly go", as far as I can see.
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Old 29th April 2012, 11:42 AM   #30
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
I didn't think it was that bad. There are some things I disagree with such as its instruction to avoid splitting the infinitive except in situations where it sounds better on the ear. There's no need to avoid splitting the infinitive IMHO.

But what examples do you find particularly worrying?
http://chronicle.com/article/50-Year...-Grammar/25497
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Old 30th April 2012, 06:50 AM   #31
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And as a lesson on the use of commas, here's a way to use them to make a sentence somewhat surprising on first reading.

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Old 30th April 2012, 07:28 AM   #32
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Originally Posted by Rat View Post
And as a lesson on the use of commas, here's a way to use them to make a sentence somewhat surprising on first reading.

http://www.rattusmaximus.co.uk/forumpics/commas.png

Hmm... I don't get it. You mean using the commas to have the lurid news earlier in the sentence?

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Old 30th April 2012, 07:44 AM   #33
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Originally Posted by AdMan View Post
Hmm... I don't get it. You mean using the commas to have the lurid news earlier in the sentence?
It's entirely possible that you're just more skilled than me in reading sentences the way that the writer intended. I tend to read things first time around entirely the wrong way, such as seeing a sign reading "massive furniture sale" and thinking "what would I do with massive furniture?"

In this case, I read the bit between commas as parenthetical, which is a way that commas are often used, in which case the headline tells us that he drowned a day after his body was found.
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Old 30th April 2012, 07:50 AM   #34
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Originally Posted by Rat View Post
It's entirely possible that you're just more skilled than me in reading sentences the way that the writer intended. I tend to read things first time around entirely the wrong way, such as seeing a sign reading "massive furniture sale" and thinking "what would I do with massive furniture?"

In this case, I read the bit between commas as parenthetical, which is a way that commas are often used, in which case the headline tells us that he drowned a day after his body was found.

Oh, now I see it--and you're right. That second comma is wrong.
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Old 30th April 2012, 07:54 AM   #35
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I'm slightly loth to describe it as wrong, but it's certainly potentially misleading. I think it's the result of being written by somebody who uses commas wherever they would pause if speaking the sentence.
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Old 30th April 2012, 09:50 AM   #36
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Originally Posted by Rat View Post
I'm slightly loth to describe it as wrong, but it's certainly potentially misleading. I think it's the result of being written by somebody who uses commas wherever they would pause if speaking the sentence.
'Headline-ese' is its own subset of the language, much like 'ad-speak'.
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Old 30th April 2012, 10:35 AM   #37
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Without a doubt. I think Bill Bryson pointed out one of my favourite unfortunate headlines - "Police Rape Claim Woman In Court". What on earth is a claim woman, and why would the police rape her in court?
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Old 30th April 2012, 10:52 AM   #38
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Originally Posted by Rat View Post
I tend to read things first time around entirely the wrong way, such as seeing a sign reading "massive furniture sale" and thinking "what would I do with massive furniture?"

This reminded me of a different but related issue: a few years ago, the movie Eight Legged Freaks came out. The title bothered me quite a bit--surely it should have been Eight-Legged Freaks, because the actual title seemed to be referring to an attack by eight freaks with legs, rather than giant spiders. [/pedant]
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Old 30th April 2012, 10:53 AM   #39
RobDog63
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For individual questions I sometimes find a forum useful rather than a book.

Just today I was able to quickly find out why "will not" is abbreviated to "won't" rather than "willn't" from thefreedictionary forum, and I've had success with finding answers to quite a few other grammar / usage questions from various other forums too.
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Old 30th April 2012, 11:12 AM   #40
Wudang
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Originally Posted by crimresearch View Post
Ye gods! That's appalling but explains a lot.

eta: For many years I was a participant on a few English "forums" (actually IBMWORDS fwiw) and heard a lot of bizarre and mixed-up advice from a lot well-educated people (many wrote IBM manuals, many just interested) and it looks like that book, which was referenced a lot, is the source.
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Last edited by Wudang; 30th April 2012 at 11:50 AM.
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